Does Donald Trump walking away from TPP hand trade clout in Asia to China? Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb
Does Donald Trump walking away from TPP hand trade clout in Asia to China? Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb

In its 240-year history, the United States of America has witnessed some very tragic and scary moments. The deadly years of the Civil War in the 1980s, the Cuban missile crisis in 1963 and the terrorist attacks in 2001 are some of these.

The American presidency has also seen dark days, such as during Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Yet, perhaps at no time has America been so at odds with both the world and herself as it is during the first two weeks of the Donald Trump administration.

Against all

With the well-known confrontational style and populist rhetoric, in his first speech — and his first act — as president, the billionaire mogul turned politician launched a stringent attack on America’s elites in Washington, bluntly accusing them of enriching themselves at the expense of the American people.

Inaugural speeches are traditionally moments of national unity, reconciliation and healing. Mr. Trump, who ran a very divisive campaign, broke with this tradition. His inaugural speech was very angry, disruptive and provocative. By adopting such a tone, he signaled — or more precisely, confirmed — that he is willing not only to upend America’s traditions but also to assault anybody who disagrees with him.

In an apparent effort to mend fences with America’s intelligence agencies, he visited the CIA headquarters on his first full day in office. Yet, addressing its personnel and officials, the maverick president said he had “a running war with the media”, classing journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” This is because, in his view, the press invented a feud between him and the intelligence community.

Such a remark shows it is not the media but Trump himself that is dishonest. His despise of US press and intelligence bodies has been in evidence on numerous occasions. He repeatedly and publicly insulted the CIA, including likening it to “Nazi Germany”. Trump and his senior aides have frequently and vehemently attacked America’s media.

Nearly three months after his election and three days after his swearing-in, Trump still bitterly dwelled on his nearly three-million popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton, baselessly reiterating that he had lost the popular vote because millions of undocumented immigrants had illegally voted in the presidential election.

He spent a big part of his speech at the CIA headquarters bragging about his intelligence and stamina as well as boasting — and lying — about the crowd size at his inauguration and the number of times he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

For a man who obsessively cares about his own ego and glory — perhaps more than anything else — despite his “people first” and “America first” rhetoric, many of his statements and actions are more “Trump first”.

By vilifying the press, self-aggrandizing and making many false claims, ironically including that the election he won was rigged, Trump goes against almost all that the world has known about America.

Despite its flaws, the country is widely seen as a beacon of freedom and democracy, especially for those who still live under dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. The US president is often referred to as the leader of the free world.

However, during his first weeks in office, America’s 45th president has behaved like a despotic leader. He is even likened to Mao Zedong, the communist revolutionary, who founded and autocratically ruled the People’s Republic of China since its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

Trump’s executive order, which temporarily bars citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the US, has caused widespread uproar because it is wrong at many levels. The order is morally erroneous, constitutionally unlawful, politically reckless and economically harmful.

It violates American core values and ideals, such as solidarity, inclusivity, diversity, equality and liberty. As it is rightly pointed out, by banning refuges from America — a country of immigrants — Trump is not just denying them an opportunity but also harming the American economy.

As he singled out in his many campaign speeches and inaugural address, foreign countries are the other main target of Trump’s ire. True to his nativist and jingoistic rhetoric, since his inauguration, he has picked needless fights with many countries, including America’s key allies, because, in his view, as he stated on February 2, America is “taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually.”

As well as engaging in a war of words with his country’s foes, such as Iran, he has intimidated America’s long-standing neighbors and friends. Trump has waged a trade war with Mexico, America’s third largest trading partner, and reportedly threatened to send troops south of the border to take care of the so-called “bad hombres” from its Southern neighbor.

His first phone call as president to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on January 28 should have been friendly. Yet, it is reported that he abruptly and bluntly cut it short, turning a routine phone conversation with the leader of one of America’s staunchest allies into an unnecessary diplomatic tension.

Trump’s unilateral decision to abandon the TPP and his demand of a renegotiation of NAFTA and threat to withdraw from that three-nation accord if Canada and Mexico do not meet his terms, underline that he disregards ties with its key allies and partners in the Americas and Asia.

He has also adopted a confrontational posture with America’s allies in Europe. Perhaps, with the exception of NATO, where he has recently softened his attack, Trump has disdained the EU, its members and America’s decades-old ties with its transatlantic allies. He has attacked Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, while praising Russia’s strongman leader, Vladimir Putin.

Never before in its 70-decade existence has the EU had to face a US president who has such a contemptuous posture vis-à-vis the regional bloc and all that it stands for, e.g. liberal democracy and a rules-based international order. Such an unprecedented hostility has led to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, to regard to the Donald Trump administration as part of an external threat facing the EU, which includes an increasingly assertive China, an aggressive Russia and radical Islam.

The Trump administration is even at loggerheads with Great Britain, whose Brexit has been supported by the former, on many major issues, such as refugees, NATO, Russia and global trade. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is one of the UK’s politicians to have spoken out against Mr. Trump’s executive immigration order, stating “it is divisive and wrong to stigmatize” people on the basis of nationality.

All will lose?

In his inaugural address, Donald Trump used apocalyptic terms, such as “carnage,” “depletion,” and “disrepair,” to describe America’s current state. On his campaign trail, he often presented himself as the savior to solve all of America’s ills.

In his remarks at National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday, he said that “the world is in trouble” and vowed he would fix it.

Perhaps, America is, in his own description, a crippled, humiliated nation and the world is, in his own words, “under serious, serious threat in so many different ways.” Yet, if America and the world are now in such a dire condition, this is mainly because of his recklessness and even blindness. He is not the answer, but rather the cause, of those ills and threats.

Indeed, just two weeks in the White House, with a whirlwind of feckless orders, memorandums and statements, he has already caused a lot of trouble to the world, America and himself.

Trump entered office with the lowest approval ratings of any new president in history. Latest polls also show only 44% of Americans approve his performance so far, making him the least popular newly-inaugurated president.

Usually a newly elected — or inaugurated — president enjoys a high popularity. But in Trump’s case, he did not have a honeymoon period. Worse still, just after his election, people began talking about his impeachment. By the time he swore in, a campaign to prosecute him had already started. According to a poll released on February 2, 40% of American voters now wanted to see him impeached, rising from 35% a week before. That an American president faces such a likely prospect of impeachment in his early days in office is unprecedented.

He is so unpopular because he is greatly damaging America’s image, reputation and, potentially, its security and prosperity.

The US has become the world’s superpower not only because of its economic and military strength. It has enjoyed unmatched global reach, influence and dominance also thanks to its soft power and a global network of alliances and partnerships. The Trump administration is now undermining America’s core liberal and democratic values and its ties with key allies and partners.

He pledges to make his country “strong again,” “wealthy again,” “proud again,” “safe again,” and “great again,” by rigidly pursuing an “America first” policy. However, with such a nativist, nationalist, protectionist doctrine, he is — potentially — making the world’s hitherto richest and most powerful country weaker, less prosperous, less respected, less secure and less great. This is because, however powerful it is, America needs to work with other countries, especially its main partners and allies.

His raw realpolitik rhetoric and zero-sum approach to world politics is very dangerous because it will greatly damage the safety and prosperity of not only America but also of the world. That is why, except for a few countries, such as Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, most of the countries in the world, including America’s long-standing and most important allies, such as Germany and Japan, are very concerned about Trump and his policies.

According to a latest poll, two-thirds of the people in the UK, one of America’s closest allies, believe Trump is a “threat to international stability.”

Indeed, judging by what he has done since his inauguration, both America and the world should be wary of him. If he does not radically shift his reckless rhetoric and policy, his presidency, his country and the rest of the world are likely to suffer.

Xuan Loc Doan

Dr Xuan Loc Doan researches and writes on a number of areas. These include the domestic and foreign policy of the UK, Vietnam and China, US-China relations and geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

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